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Oscar de la Renta

The social set adores him, but there's nothing stuffy about Dominican-born designer Oscar de la Renta's vision of the good life. That's helped him win the heart of a different in-crowd: young beauties like Cameron Diaz and Camilla Belle who won fame on the big screen, not in the society pages.

Born in Santo Domingo in 1932, he was a teenaged would-be artist when he moved to Madrid to study painting. It was in Spain that he found his true calling, when he began sketching for fashion houses on the side; an apprenticeship under Cristobal Balenciaga followed, allowing de la Renta access to one of the century's greatest couturiers. He moved in 1961 to Paris, working as an assistant to Antonio Castillo, another Spaniard, at Lanvin. Two years later he re-crossed the Atlantic, this time heading for Manhattan, where Diana Vreeland helped him procure a make-or-break gig creating a bespoke line for Elizabeth Arden, who allowed de la Renta's name to take pride of place on the label. Eager to break into ready-to-wear, he launched his first independent line in 1965, and by 1973 was a creative force of such stature and respectability that he was elected president of the CFDA. During his three-year tenure there, he created the CFDA Awards.

De la Renta branched out into the beauty realm in 1977 with the launch of his first perfume, and over the years has added accessories, eyewear, and a furniture and home fragrance range to his fiefdom. In the 1990's, he returned to his roots, becoming the head couturier at Balmain—the first American ever to man the helm at a vrai haute couture house.

In 1990, the CFDA returned the favor by awarding de la Renta a Lifetime Achievement Award…although his career was far from over. In 2007, he nabbed the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year Award for the second time (sharing it that year with relative newcomers Proenza Schouler). Today, de la Renta remains a major force on the American fashion stage. He jets between several grand homes, including Casa de Madera, his fruit plantation in the Dominican Republic, and a country garden estate in Kent, Connecticut, and in 2008 was the only and obvious choice to dress First Daughter Jenna Bush at her spring wedding.

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